What does HR look like in the future?

What the HR jobs of tomorrow might look like



HR seems to be in a constant state of flux, and those who witnessed the rebranding from personnel may be wondering if another seismic shift is around the corner, driven by technology. HYWEL ROBERTS identifies the potential HR roles of the future

1. HR data tsar

Talk about the future of HR and one word will keep coming up: data. But today, many HR functions are collecting streams of data without a clear idea of what to do with it.

Jason Averbook, chief business innovation officer at technology consultancy Appirio, believes an HR data tsar will soon be required to collate and make sense of gigabyte upon gigabyte of employee metrics.

“I wouldn’t even say this is a job for the future – this is something that’s needed right now,” he says. “We’ve already reached a tipping point where information is too vast to be held in any one HR system. When the data moves into the cloud, who will look after it and who will be responsible for the security and regulation around it?”

The issue of regulation will become increasingly contentious and ambiguous when storing employee data in the cloud becomes the norm. When everything is held off-site, who looks after it? According to Averbook, HR needn’t relinquish control.

“The first thing is knowing where all the data is,” he explains. “I see the data tsar acting as a steward for all workforce metrics. Once it is provisioned outside of the core HR systems, you need someone in the HR teams who understands how it flows and can control that flow.”

Once the information is safe, then the data tsar can start to use it to the business’s advantage. One of the primary functions of the role will be to “push the data to the key stakeholders in a way that’s both intelligent and predictive,” says Averbook.

He adds that the “holy grail” for new roles in HR is “data science”, explaining: “With this level of analysis, managers will be able to say that their best recruits went to university for four years. Not only that, but they’ll be able to tell you which university they went to and the years in which they were born.” A combination of “human intelligence and automated tools” is required to take analytics to the next level, Averbook adds.

The biggest change that this role will drive, according to Averbook, is in bringing a holistic approach to information that is, in many cases, already available. Currently, every department is responsible for its own data, but only when it is being observed “as a coherent story” can it truly be used to drive performance, he says.

2. Biometric data auditor

Collecting information from HR systems is one thing. But how about extracting data straight from the source – the employees themselves? Recent research by the Institute of Management Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London, suggests that using data from wearable technology can boost workplace productivity by up to 8.5%. And senior lecturer Chris Brauer believes this is only the beginning.

“The missing piece of the big data revolution is the human being,” he says. “With wearable technology, you have human beings augmented by technology. You can use biometrics to give you real-time information only previously dreamed of.”

Look at sport. “If you’re a football manager, you know exactly what injuries the right-back is carrying,” says Brauer. “You can measure exactly what training regimes get him to his peak physical condition, which diet works for him and exactly how much sleep is best for him. Why can’t HR do something similar?”

This kind of analysis could lead to a role Brauer calls a biometric data auditor (BDA). They would control this sensitive data and make sure it’s used in the best interests of the business and the employee. The information could conceivably be used to determine who is in the best shape to deliver a sales pitch or lead an internal meeting. This selection process would be within the remit of the company’s BDA.

3. Communications specialist

Paul Mason, CEO of communications company Paul Mason Consulting, believes that, as yet another generation enters the workplace, being able to communicate effectively will become ever more important.

“We have Generation Z [people born in the mid-1990s onwards] entering work now,” he says. “If there’s one thing we see it’s the way they communicate and react to information is vastly different from how most HR directors behave. They don’t respond well to rulebooks and generic rollouts, so to engage them you need to dramatically change your strategy.”

There is a risk of disenfranchising younger staff if this is done poorly, he warns. To avoid this risk, a potential new HR role could be a social communications specialist who ensures tailored communication for every employee.

“Young people coming into the workplace now are getting their information increasingly from the internet and social media,” Mason explains. “They’re very good at sifting the good from the bad. If you put the right information in the right places, rather than force it upon them, they are more likely to find it for themselves and do something useful with it.”

4. Social media supervisor

Companies are becoming increasingly aware of the power of social media for their employer brand. However, as always, great power comes with great responsibility.

Employers are starting to wake up to the potential reputational damage of errant tweets by their employees. But Bubble social media marketing manager Lauren Riley believes things will go further, leading to a specific role within HR to monitor both the good and bad aspects of social media in the workplace.

"While employers are monitoring this to some extent, with social media becoming more integrated into workplaces this will be a full-time role going forward," she said. "It's not just making sure people don't do things wrong, but also trying to encourage employees to use social media to really push the positive aspects of the employer brand."

Riley believes this role will sit within the HR function, as it is very much about people and their power to portray a positive image of an organisation. 

5. Core HR specialist

As a senior leader in a technology company, SDL global head of HR Roddy Temperley is au fait with new ideas. However, he believes HR will need to return to its roots. While he agrees data aggregation and communications are increasingly important, he says the function must not lose sight of its core objectives.

“When we switched from personnel to HR, suddenly it was all about the data and proving to the board that you were relevant,” he says. “But people will always be at the heart of what we do.” In other words, HR must retain its values and make sure they are reflected throughout the company and in its interaction with customers.

“If you don’t have that internal structure, from the top down, your external relations will suffer,” Temperley adds. “It’s clear that we need to evolve in HR, and all these new parts of the function will add to that. But, in the future, as in the past, HR will always have to look after the people first.”

It’s not so much a new part of HR as reinforcing old values in an evolving workplace. Amid dazzling ideas, from wearable tech to predictive data, someone who keeps HR anchored is not to be sniffed at.